International day of Happiness

Be nice – put the ‘phone away

I started today with an apology. Having spent much of Saturday afternoon in moderately civil debate on twitter, I went to bed sad and irritated. I woke up in much the same mood, but forced myself to examine why that was. I found a path to a little happiness as a result.

I am currently writing an essay that has me facing some self-doubt. It is all the harder for having to be just 500 words and aimed at a general-public audience. I am neither succinct, nor easily able to perceive that dividing line. So I hatched an ill-thought out, ethically suspect, and hubris-laden plan. Why don’t I engage with an audience on twitter and see if I can stand? Not my finest moment. I did actually learn a few things, but I made no friends. Indeed I rather arrogantly walked a mile or two with idle curiosity at what others fight hard to make their way through. The apology this morning was heart-felt but probably too late.

So I do feel a little happier, having acknowledged blame. More settled and socially normal again. I seek out social cohesion, so caustic debate is draining – and it rarely ends well. The apology was an important step for me. Strangers bickering in blindness would perhaps be easier to just walk away from. But that would linger still. For them and for me.

Genuine apology. An attempt to put right a wrong. The tiniest of kindness to bridge a divide. A gap where respect should have been. I am reminded that kindness is psychologically the better way. And that this is almost always true. Professor Abigail Marsh shows altruism is beneficial to mood, in all but a tiny psychopathic minority. Psychologist Jo Cutler suggests we are quite calculating with kindness, but argues it still has positive results. To which Evolutionary Behaviourist, Nichola Raihani adds that this “social instinct” is a fundamental to the human condition. Check out this BBC podcast for a summary of those truths.

So how will I be happy today? Maybe a little kindness to myself too. A good start point will be to stay away from my ‘phone and social media today. Allowing hubris to melt; and for respect to return. Respect for other opinions that may have less textbook clarity but more life-living experience attached. Respect for the dialogue. And respect for myself.

There. I am feeling a tiny bit happier already…


Further reading –

This is great website to visit on International day of happiness.

What follows are notes I will return to, with some quick find observations to help me return here soon.

In regards to social media this paper, Chapter 4 of the 2022 Happiness Report, caught my eye as I prepared to write this blog. The paper confirms that studies seeking out emotional trends in a population could be conducted via social media analytics. The correlation of social media and survey emotions used as a comparisons, shown to most closely aligned in negative emotions of sadness and anxiety – see page 80 figure 4.2 for a more limited correlation for happy emotions. Even when reporting we are happy on social media, we may not be.

The paper also outlined a relationship between social media and survey emotion measures becoming most visible in times of large variations of emotions, such as during the COVID-19 outbreak (pp81). Key limitations noted as representative nature of samples so best limited to within-sample comparison as opposed to representing a wider population (pp96). Reporting bias is also inevitable given the lack of anonymity inherent in social media posting (pp97).

I also noted that the adjustments for gender were made as absolutes with no account for differences that may arise within samples due to heightened interest or topic. The 60% male gender bias not considered against more nuanced variations over time. I also consider the particular interest in gender difference but no other categorisation to be as much a reflection of bias in assuming emotional variance is most acute across gender difference. Something psychologists such as Gina Rippon are fighting hard to call out and change. Also, the subject of my current essay which I am finding so hard to land.

men are more visible on Twitter (pp81 citing Nilizadeh 2016)

tweets posted by male users account for ore than 60% of tweets with gender detected in our sample (pp81)

Happiness Report subsection regarding social media measures. My question: is gender actually the key category of interest here?

This particular paper was ultimately more interesting to me as an exploration of the validity (and limitations) of social media as a passive measuring tool for emotional trends. Passive because it was based solely on language and tone of all posts, not seeking direct questions as the survey comparisons had done. It concluded there was validity, most strongly in detection of negative moods. Although, that is no surprise given the tendency toward negativity expected during the Covid19 ordeal.